A Tale of Two Young Chinese Writers
Recently in China, a spate of popular young fiction writers has appeared on the scene. But two writers stand out among the rest. Not only have they managed to differentiate themselves from other writers, but they have also gone to great lengths to differentiate themselves from each other. Fights between them dominate the newspaper headlines for weeks at a time.
After growing up in a semi-deserted inland city, Guo Jingming has made every right move within China’s traditional fiction-writing system and has won fame and fortune writing trendy novels for teenage girls. He churns out novels like an assembly line—a very profitable one at that. He has several publicists and wears flashy designer clothes to capture public attention. He has even posted half-naked pictures of himself on the web.
Jingming’s rival, Han Han, has taken a more dramatic path to success. He achieved overnight success in high school, and promptly dropped out of school. He turned down offers from China’s most reputable universities to become a professional racecar driver, splitting his time between losing races and writing novels about his youthful angst. Despite his racing career, Han Han isn’t flashy; he hates media attention and rarely takes in-person interviews, claiming he’s “too ugly to be seen.” He never holds press conferences for book launches, and even his publishers don’t know where he is.
The differences between Han and Guo are vast. They write differently, dress differently, treat media and fame differently, and they have completely different views about managing and distributing their content.
For Guo, the internet is a means for promoting his books, magazines, music ventures and, more generally, himself. He has a blog that he updated quite frequently when it first launched, but he has since stopped writing new posts because he doesn’t want to give out content for free. For Guo, blogging is a tool for building his brand, not a channel for delivering content. He also edits a chic literary magazine, which is available for purchase on newsstands but not available online.
For Han, the internet serves a very different role. He regularly updates his blog and he rarely uses it to promote his fiction writing (though he does often post information about his failing racecar career). He writes about social issues and appears not to fear getting into trouble for his controversial words. He seldom appears in photographs, but his name generates hundreds of millions of hits. When he opened an online store, selling his books through an eBay-like C2C trading site, turnover was so high that the site believed fake transactions were being conducted and shut down Han’s operation.
The site’s popularity can largely be attributed to Han’s innovative and pluralistic use of the internet. He sees it as a vehicle for communicating with his readers, avoiding barriers that might be created by a third party, like a news media conglomerate. (Recently, Han solicited magazine titles and design ideas from readers for an upcoming project). For Han, the internet is much more than a marketing gimmick, and readers have responded.
Comparing these two writers highlights a division among China’s young people. While Guo adheres to the traditional Chinese fiction industry, attracting a sizable fan-base, Han defies the establishment and scoops up young readers who are eager to form a counter-culture discourse. The latter group has been enabled by the internet, and there’s no doubt that it will continue to grow. What the future holds in store for the traditional world of Chinese fiction-writing remains to be seen.
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